(The following article is property of Avenue Code, LLC, and was originally published with permission at TotalRetail on August 28, 2018.)
Heather Craig, head of retail experience at thredUP, talks with us about the rapid growth the consignment shop is achieving by building on a unique business model with customer-oriented technologies and a spin on a physical retail presence.
Avenue Code: ThredUP is quickly gaining widespread recognition, but the concept behind it is innovative enough that it may need explaining. How would you describe the thredUP brand, vision and business model?
Heather Craig: ThredUP is the world’s largest online thrift store, where millions of women buy and sell over 35,000 different brands, from Old Navy to Gucci. You order a free clean out bag on thredUP.com, fill it with clothes you no longer wear, and receive a payout from us. When I first discovered it seven, eight years ago, it made cleaning my closet incredibly easy!
AC: What goes into building consumer loyalty for a brand such as thredUP?
HC: One in 10 women in the U.S. have joined thredUP, and they’re loyal because they’re invested in our full process, both clearing their closets and purchasing new items constantly. With over a thousand items added to our inventory every hour, we give women an affordable way to continually refresh their wardrobes.
AC: ThredUP is investing heavily in a physical store presence, as opposed to many retailers which are moving in the opposite direction. What's the importance of a physical presence for thredUP shoppers?
HC: Our mission is to change the way women think about secondhand. Our primary selling platform is online, but since 85 percent of women’s clothing is still purchased in-store, we’re converting skeptics by opening physical locations and allowing shoppers to see and touch products that are beautiful, high quality and fashionable. Our physical presence builds confidence in our online offerings.
In addition to enjoying incredible customer service, customers can scan any clothing items while in the fitting room and quickly find similar products online. We also track data on top-selling items geographically to help determine our in-store inventory. It's more complex than traditional retail, but our state-of-the-art logistics makes this all possible.
AC: How can digital native brands create a cohesive omnichannel experience for consumers?
HC: Our stores are just another portal to our site. You can order a clean out bag online or pick one up in-store. You can mail it back or drop it off in person at the store. We leverage the data we already have on the customer’s favorite items, stock them in-store, and notify you on your thredUP app that your brands are back. Every experience is seamless.
AC: What about in-store technology? How is thredUP investing in this aspect of the consumer experience?
HC: If customers like an item, they can scan it and find similar item recommendations. Our in-store teams use these technologies as well, scanning popular purchases and ordering similar items, giving them great local control over their inventory. We also use a variety of tools to determine ideal styles for different body types. We have a lot of information on how different brands fit different bodies, and we use this to help our customers find the right jeans, evening gowns, shoes, etc., allowing them to enjoy the luxury of a virtual personal stylist but in a physical store.
AC: Heather, it’s always inspiring to see women forging an impressive career path in the world of e-commerce. How did you to get into this line of work?
HC: One of my first jobs was as a stock girl at a kid's store when I was 15. I fell in love with helping customers find an item they were looking for and discovering what they didn’t know they needed. As I’ve grown in my career and my knowledge of branding and marketing, I always come back to the idea of customer satisfaction. Retail is always changing, and I love the challenge of meeting customers’ needs through every change.
AC: Tell us a little about your time at The North Face, and what eventually led you to consider thredUP as the next step in your career.
HC: I was with The North Face a little over six years, overseeing all buying and merchandising for retail stores as well as e-commerce. I learned so much about consumer connections and product marketing through managing and owning such a massive brand!
I later joined thredUP because I had the opportunity to meet with James [Reinhart, CEO] as a fan of thredUP. I was curious about the business and how thredUP worked. I had used thredUP from the beginning, and I didn’t even know physical stores were on the horizon. During that conversation, we discussed the possibility. After a few discussions, we decided to give it a go. It was a natural transition for me because I was just so passionate about it.
AC: With a year-and-a-half under your belt at thredUP, what are your key takeaways? What are you proudest of having accomplished?
HC: I can’t believe how much we’ve accomplished in a year-and-a-half, but that’s the nature of a startup. ThredUP has shown me retail from a completely new angle, exposed me to secondhand shopping, and added to my understanding of logistics and business. At the same time, key values like customer service and great products at great prices never change.
I’m proudest of the fact that a year and a half ago, the idea of physical stores didn’t exist for the company. Now, we have full retail teams in Walnut Creek, Burlingame, and Los Gatos [all in California] that we built from the ground up. We have plans to continue to expand along the West Coast and eventually beyond. ThredUP has huge potential to change people’s lives and the way they think about secondhand. The sky’s the limit!
AC: What's your next big project? Tell us about your vision for the future.
HC: We’re an innovative company that wants to stay at the forefront of change. We’re currently brainstorming new ideas for how customers interact with clothing and purchasing in physical stores.
AC: Any closing thoughts for us?
HC: ThredUP does an incredible job of considering long-term goals from both a business and customer standpoint. It’s extremely unique to be a part of a company that isn’t focused on short-term profit, and it allows us freedom to brainstorm and test new ideas.
In the wider retail landscape, you see discounts and promotions pumped left and right to drive traffic, but we believe our prices are excellent — we’re up to 80 percent estimated retail. Of course, we could do markdowns and put huge sales signs in our windows, but we want to engage customers long term rather than push a quick sale. This vision fosters a lot of creativity!
AC: Thanks, Heather! ThredUp is a breath of fresh air in the retail landscape, and it’s great to see the mindset shift around secondhand. We’ll stay tuned to see what’s coming next for you and the team!
Holly Vander Wall
Holly Vander Wall is the Director of Marketing and Client Services at Avenue Code. She is an eCommerce enthusiast, a marketing guru, and an animal lover.